|Is it a Naegeli original?|
Between 1977 and 1979 Zürich became the home to around 900 works of art from a mysterious graffiti artist, who soon acquired the name "The Sprayer of Zürich". The city authorities were appalled and eventually Harald Naegeli was identified as the criminal artist and apprehended. Naegeli, however, fled the country, but was put on trial in absentia, found guilty of damaging private property and sentenced to nine months in prison and a fine of 206,000 CHF.
Naegeli's case became a cause celebre. He found refuge in Germany where he was welcomed by leading artists like Joseph Beuys. Back home in Zürich 72 artists and writers called for a pardon. But the city authorities demonstrated that an artist who damaged private property would receive far less forgiveness than millionaire tax-evaders (who are generally welcomed in the city, as long as it is foreign taxes that they are evading). After the Swiss had made repeated requests for extradition, Naegli gave himself over to Swiss police and served his term.
Since then times have changed. Most of Naegeli's public works have long been erased. Some of those that remain are now protected. One of the originals, "Undine" from 1978, was restored in 2005 at the costs of the Zürich tax-payer, graces a wall of the German Seminar at the University of Zürich and now has official protection status. A highlight of the recent official opening of an extension of the city zoo involved Naegeli making one of his creations in front of an invited audience that included the city president among the dignitaries. Naegeli's plans for his graffiti, drawn on paper, fetch 5,000 CHF or more. His few pieces of graffiti that still adorn city walls have become a tourist attraction.
|Undine by Harald Naegeli (Photo: D. Bachmann)|
Naegeli, who is now 72 years old, still works, though rarely in public places. This weekend it was rumoured that a new graffiti of his had appeared near the steps leading up to the Grossmünster. Too late, by the time journalists and photographers got wind of it the drawing had already been erased by a worker from the sanitation department. If graffiti appears on a wall, he maintained, his job is to erase it, Unlike the legal authorities, his job is not to judge what is art.
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